Gang of Three

I was able to find the time to read three books this week. This is the first time in many years that I have had this luxury!

The first is SPQR (Senatus Populus que Romanus). It was a belated birthday gift from Sibelius. It is doing the rounds at his institution and has given rise to a new wave of interest in the Twelve Tables and the ideas around citizenship. He thought I might like it because I have inflicted a great deal of terrible Latin on him, misappropriated from the Aeneid and Cicero’s works (Caitline speeches).  I loved it not because of the Latin, but because of how detailed and well-researched the book was. It looks at the first millennium of Rome, from an early settlement to a little, bustling town, to the city it then became, and finally the heart of an empire. It examines the motivations of the Senate, the people, and how the balance between them led to the evolution of a democracy. The republic did not last. It gave way to the reign of the emperors, and the book looks at how the alteration of the old system ruptured the fabric of their state. I am averse to historical books, because they often cast speculation as fact, because they cast opinion as truth. This one was remarkably and refreshingly honest, marking speculation boldly and clearly when it ventured into the territory, backing up each fact with exhaustive citations.

The second was recommended to me because of the current political situation. It was Philip Roth’s Our Gang, a political satire portraying, supposedly, the times of Nixon. Though I have liked a few of Roth’s works, I can’t claim to find a great deal of reading pleasure in his writing style. He is sometimes too blunt for my tastes. Our Gang was an interesting story, and I found it did reflect some of the questions, concerns, and worries that many sections of the public today have about the current political situation. Roth might not be the writer I seek out everyday, but he is clever and sharp. It is as much a book of our times as it was a book of his times – an easy read, crude too often, but incisive, and pokes fun at so many parts of our society, at what we vote for, at what we vote  against, and offers some commentary on why things are as they are.

The third one was different, in a genre I don’t often venture to. It was a gift from a Kafka-doused cynic I know at work.  It was Jorge Luis Borge’s collected fictions. It was my experience with a work from him. I enjoyed the book immensely. Each of the stories was different, and yet the strains of mathematics and culture, of a strong sense of human caprice and virtue, was prevalent throughout. Aleph was, perhaps, the most beloved one. The Lottery of Babylon was one of my favourites. I giggled a lot at Pierre Menard’s attempts to redo the Don Quixote. Hakim’s story was too close to reality, as it goes to how to make cults and religions. Some stories were more solemn than the others. All of them were distinctive. I think I may be tempted to read Aleph once more soon, when I am able to read books at leisure again.

I capped it all off with a day of listening to Lady Gaga’s new album. It is a good album. Some of the songs I liked immediately. Others grow on me as I listen again. She is an excellent performer, of course, but I like her raw talents too – her voice and her lyrics are both strong enough to stand on their own, even without theatrics.